Since my early teenage years, I had always wondered whether one’s nationality or gender has any effect on one’s capability to learn a language better.
I stumbled on this thought when I attended some lecture at school by a foreign teacher. I don’t exactly remember what the lecture was all about, but I remember the teacher telling us that we were quite lucky because, as per her, we have a neutral accent. So, basically, she was saying that we (the Nepalese) were lucky in terms of language learning, because we have a neutral accent. After that incident, the more I thought about it, the more it seemed true. And once I started learning Korean, I was reminded of this fact every single time.
As a Nepali growing up in one of the most culturally rich South Asian nations, Nepal, we essentially learn or know at least four languages: Nepali (네팔어,the national language), English (영어, the official teaching language at most schools, at least in all cites), one’s caste specific language (Newari 네왈어, in my case; Every caste has their own unique language), and Hindi (인도,that we learn from massive exposure to Indian television). And if you have a close friend that belongs to some other caste or if you live in a community with majority of people from some other caste, you are most likely to learn a fifth or even a sixth language.
So I know four languages just because I am a Nepali. I am fluent in Nepali and English. And I fully understand Newari and Hindi (but my speaking skills aren’t that good). And I am learning Korean. So, that makes it five. Therefore, my brain is already wired to handle multiple languages. Out of the four languages that I know, three (Nepali, Hindi and Newari) are quite similar in terms of structure, syntax and vocabulary (to some extent) although there are some stark differences as well; whereas English has a completely different structure on its own.
As for Korean, when I first started learning Korean, I picked up the basics such as the sentence structure, verb conjugation, etc., quite easily. I used to watch a lot of videos on YouTube (TTMIK, Koreanclass101, Conversational Korean, sweetandtastyTV and many more), and learn the verbs, basic nouns, pronouns, etc. I also used to look up a lot of videos and blog posts about how other foreigners were learning Korean, things like “tips for learning Korean or learning a second language, in general”. And I began noticing that many people, mostly non-Asian English speaking Korean learners, struggled quite a lot, mostly at the beginning with the Korean sentence structure. But I couldn’t understand why that was the case, because for me, the sentence structure in Korean S-O-V “난 학교에 간다” which is “I to school go” in English was a very simple concept. You just push the verb to the end of the sentence. Moreover, although my native language is Nepali, I was learning Korean in English as well, the same way these English speakers were doing. So, I wondered why the whole “verb-at-the-end-of-the-sentence” thing was not a problem for me at all. But, I felt quite stupid afterwards, when I realized that the whole S-O-V structure is exactly what Nepali AND Newari AND Hindi follows too. (It surprisingly did took me quite a long time to realize that, as I was translating everything in English while learning Korean!) Therefore, although I was learning Korean in English, my brain was already used to shoving the verb to the end of the sentence. So the Korean structuring was nothing new for my brain at all.
This made me realize that just because I was a Nepali (still am btw), I could easily skip the whole process of wrapping my head around many concepts, the sentence structure being just one case. Well, I am not talking about just a simple “I go to school” structure, much longer sentences in Korean have an almost identical translation in Nepali. That is why, all I needed to do was learn the words, build my vocabulary and I was all good to go. For example, a sentence like “I got tons of compliments for my looks at yesterday’s party” which is something like “Ma hijo office ko party ma gako ta sable malai kasto ramri dekheko vane”, is almost identical in Korean: 어제 (난) 회사 파티에 갔더니, 다들 정말 예쁘다고 말했다/칭찬했다. To illustrate what I am saying, let’s see a whole dialogue.